I came in looking for Ninjitsu, but, left with a glimpse at an entire Japanese Martial Art system. The way of the Japanese warrior is actually a combination of many paths. At the Budo Shingikan Dojo the students are guided along five of them, through the system of Bushin Ryu Aiki Bujutsu. This literally translates as “Authentic Style of War Arts Utilizing Harmonious Blending of Energy”. At first glance those concepts may seem to be at war with each other, but as I learned, that is the beauty and balance of this art. (www.martialartsmesa.com) From the moment I chatted with Shannon on the phone I knew we were in good hands. She asked that we arrive 30 minutes early so we could have a tour of the school and be assigned a student to “shadow”. This student would help us a along the way through the class so that we could blend comfortably into the class and learn some basics. She then further shared that we should wear long pants and a t-shirt to be most comfortable in the class. I took Kris Costa, our favorite Editor, along for the adventure.
Entering the dojo was a study in balance. Dedeuc D’Antonoli Kaiso proudly shared that they moved into their new location about a year and a half ago. It is the perfect combination of spacious 21st century warehouse and feudal Japanese simplicity. We were only 10 minutes into the tour when Kaiso demonstrated the intricacies of his art. We were chatting about AiKi, the study of the marriage between body structure and energy. After carefully listening to a question of mine, he clarified with a simple demonstration. He asked me to stand in a typical martial arts front stance with my hand extended in a punch. After I complied he pushed on my extended hand. I noted the familiar concussion as the jarring energy pushed me backwards and my body attempted to accommodate by exerting pressure of it’s own. Next, he asked if he could move my body a little. With my permission he then rotated my hand position about 20 degrees and bent my elbow in. Again, he struck my hand. I was riveted, as I realized my body didn’t have to absorb any of the energy, and I felt his impact flow right out of my right heel into the floor. I had read before about Japanese martial artists wanting to emulate an “immovable mountain”. At 128 lbs, I didn’t think I had an immovable anything. It wasn’t my strength or powerful resistance, rather, the structure of my stance and body position by which the energy flowed right through me.
I was hooked!
Back in the front office we were filling out permission forms when we were introduced to Jim. Jim is referred to as Senpai (sen-pie). In class, he is the highest ranking student. We were to shadow Jim throughout our class. Senpai did a masterful job of guiding us through the ins and outs of the lesson, while gently educating us on the culture and etiquette of the dojo
The first thing I noted upon entering the dojo was the silence. Students are encouraged to remain quiet and I was moved by the centering affect this granted. Before the class the students lined up by rank and knelt in Seiza (say-za). This is a position where you kneel on both knees with your feet tucked under your bottom. We bowed in as each student mindfully placed their left and then right hand on the floor and bowed their head towards their hands. Then, equally mindful, placed their right hand and then left back onto their thighs. We bowed to the front of the room and then to the Sensei. The students recited several words in Japanese. Kaiso then asked one of the students to lead the class in warm ups. It was clear to me that this would be considerably different than classes I had been to before. Rather than warming up with jumping jacks and stretch kicks, we focused more on wrist and hip limbering techniques. Almost all of the stretches were static and each student was responsible to stay within their own limits. We stretched in unison as the leading student counted out the moves. The commands were spoken in Japanese and I was told the students are taught these through a student guide and practice.
Freshly warmed up, we moved onto Ukemi (ooh-kim-e) – tumbling. As new students, Senpai took us to the side and taught us forward rolls. I was guessing that these were designed to make me feel as uncoordinated and humble as possible! However Kaiso, explained that they are actually a very important way to teach us how to fall. He shared that living in such a safe area, we are more likely to get hurt by slipping and falling than by being attacked. Falling gracefully and without injury is an important skill. Senpai’s demonstration did look like a graceful flow of skirts and limbs. My rolls, well, …. not so much.
Next, Kaiso gathered us back into a straight line kneeling in seiza. I noted that if students became uncomfortable in this position that they would bow and then quietly move into a cross-legged position for more comfort. Kaiso asked Senpai to come to the front of the class and they demonstrated an attack with it’s counter move. It was an artful escape and countering control technique one could use if an attacker had both hands held behind you. D’Antonoli Kaiso demonstrated that it wasn’t a tug-of-war between you and your attacker. If there is no conflict, there can be nothing for your attacker to move against. He flowed masterfully out of the grab and Senpai ended up on the ground.
We paired off and attempted to emulate the technique. This was my favorite part of the entire experience. Sensei would visit each pair and make minute changes that made all the difference in the world. He would gladly repeat the technique with you until you could see the differences. In other martial arts schools I have practically felt the testosterone rolling off my instructor as he made the students “comply”. Often times it seemed to me that the students would submit just to stop the pain. This was not like that. Never for a moment did I feel negative energy flowing from Kaiso or Senpai. It was clear that their goal was to share this knowledge until you truly “got it” and without conflict. I felt as if they were effortlessly guiding me through the lesson. It was like the gentle swish swish you feel and hear as you ski down a gentle mountain slope.
Each time we partnered up to practice we would say “Ome gai shimasu”. This is a way of saying that you are trusting your partner with your body and your theirs. You are both sacrificing your body’s security for the potential learning of your partner. Before returning to the line up, each partner says “domo arigato’. Which means “thank you, very much.” After each technique I felt the pride of victory and achievement. Not because I had overpowered, or outmatched my partner, but because we had travelled down this path together.
Later, as Kaiso was demonstrating a technique to me, he explained “I then help my partner to the ground”. I laughed at this, and joked about “how kind he was”. He acknowledged my mirth, but then shared, that this is actually an important point. “Forcing” your opponent to the floor holds a much different feel and energy than “helping” them to the floor. Practitioners of his art, always strive for the absence of “fighting mind” and internal centering is a big part of this. It was interesting to me that there wasn’t any “kihaps” (yells) in the dojo. Ki-haps are used in other martial arts to harness and release your energy during the time of impact. Of course in Bujutsu there is no “point of impact”. The dojo is flush with quiet and centered energy.
Kaiso then called us back to line up and showed us what to do after we had “helped our opponent to the floor”. Again, we paired off and practiced the technique. And, again Senpai insured that I actually understood it. There was no veil of mysticism that would be raised after years of study. He helped me understand it right.
D’Antonoli Kaiso called us back to the line up to have a chat about Chudo (chew-doe) — The way of the middle. He asked the students to put this into their own words. I heard, “balance”, “no extremes”, “taking the center path”. Kaiso expanded upon these definitions. In the martial arts you may have two extremes. For example, you may have one martial art that is teaching you to rip someone’s arm off and take it home for dinner. At the other extreme, a martial art that is completely defensive and would never hurt another. Rather, he spoke of taking the middle path. Not constantly moving through life looking for, and interpreting, signs of an attack. And, not moving through life shying from all attacks and cowering. Rather moving through life with expectations of peace and a willingness to defend oneself if necessary. D’Antonoli Kaiso had explained during our introductory tour that there are five tips that each student must demonstrate to earn their next belt rank. And, like a star, each of these five points need to be equally developed in order to be a complete and well rounded Japanese warrior. They are:
1. Yellow Tip – Koppo Jutsu – punching and kicking techniques,
2. Blue Tip – Jujutsu – grappling/joint locks and chokes,
3. Purple Tip – Aiki no Jutsu – internal components, body mapping and body architecture (structure),
4. Brown Tip – Kobujutsu – weapons – they focus on sword, staff and knife,
5. Black Tip – Martial concepts, principles and philosophies.
Our final lesson of the evening was one in energy. Kaiso invited Senpai up to the front of the class to try and “push him over”. They were both kneeling on the ground, facing each other, with their knees planted wide. Senpai would push against Kaiso and Kaiso would flip him around on the floor with little or no effort. D’Antonoli Kaiso explained that he had no conflict with Senpai. That his mind was actually behind him and that he let the energy flow right through him so there would be no “point of conflict.” Dutifully impressed, we set off with our partners to practice this mystical art.
Guess what? It worked! Again, I had that feeling of complete immovability. I wasn’t “fighting” against Senpai’s force. Rather, I just focused my energy behind him. And, when it was my turn to push against Senpai, it felt absolutely useless. Because I could tell I was actually just pushing him harder into the mat. The only one pushing was me.
We lined up by rank a final time and knelt again in seiza. Kaiso made a couple of school announcements and we mindfully bowed out. What an amazing lesson! After class each of the classmates came up and shook our hands and introduced themselves. It was clear that the dojo was a family and we were welcomed in with open arms. What a wonderful adventure!